The long off-season after a disappointing playoff loss finally came to an end, and Naperville Central looks primed to put together another big year this spring.
The Redhawks opened the 2014 campaign with a home game against Hinsdale South and the experienced squad looked an awful like the one that opened 2013 with 29 straight wins as the hosts beat the Hornets 8-0 in Naperville.
Leadoff hitter Maddi Doane walked and scored in the first inning to start a two-run rally, and then led off the third and fifth innings with extra-base hits on her way to scoring three times. But only her first-inning run -- scored on Kaitlyn Skarecky's double to center field -- was needed as Keegan Hayes and Julie Kestas combined on a four-hit shutout of the Hornets (0-4).
"We were sitting in the dugout before the game and we were saying it seems like the continuation of last season," said Doane, who blasted a deep triple to start the Redhawks third inning and then had a bloop double that sparked a five-run outburst in the fifth. "We have a lot of the same starters, so it was picking up where we left off sort of."
Naperville Central, which had its great 2013 season end in the regional finals, has eight starters back this spring and they looked sharp for a season opener, especially considering that the poor weather this spring has limited outdoor practices and games.
Hayes was in midseason form, striking out 11 Hornets and allowing just three singles in five innings of work. Kestas added two scoreless innings of work with two strikeouts.
"I think we were just super anxious to play. We wanted to get outside," said Hayes, who helped herself at the plate with an RBI double in the fifth. "This is actually our first time outside on dirt. It was interesting to have like warmups because we were a little bit rough. But during the game we pulled it off. I think we all just really wanted to play."
Hinsdale South's Mackenzie Kern pitched better than the score would indicate as a few bloopers found holes in the outfield and a couple other hits maybe should have been caught. It was just a 3-0 game headed to the bottom of the fifth before Naperville Central batted around with five hits and a pair of walks resulting in five runs to put the game away.
"You can't give a team like that outs," Hornets coach Kelly Van Hout said. "Unfortunately there were a couple balls that should have been caught. That tends to be the difference in a ballgame, so I tip my hat to them."
Lisa Tassi had a pair of doubles and Megan Nerger a pair of singles as the Redhawks totaled nine hits in the game. Lindsay Gonzalez had a two-out single as Naperville Central scored twice in the first inning for a quick 2-0 lead and the sophomore second baseman also walked twice.
"It's extremely comforting having all these returners," said Hayes, who twice allowed leadoff singles but worked out of trouble. "We have pretty high expectations for ourselves so we want to live up to those."